Success doesn't happen overnight. Kelly Savage knows that better than anyone.
Nineteen years after her high school graduation, Kelly Savage is realizing her dream of earning a college degree. And now, she wants to become a teacher, helping others on that same path to education.
Savage -- a UNT College of Education student, first-generation college student and mother of six -- will walk across the stage to get her degree at 7 p.m. May 9 (Friday) in the UNT Coliseum, 600 Ave. D.
Savage graduated valedictorian of her high school class in 1995 and started her college career with a full academic scholarship to the University of Arizona, but she had to put those dreams aside when she became the caregiver to her mother, whose 16-year fight with lupus had worsened.
Savage married her high school sweetheart -- Robert, known as "Buddy" -- who had followed in his father's footsteps of military service and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. The two were married in January 1996 just following the completion of Buddy's overseas tour in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They welcomed their first child in February 1998, just days before the end of her husband's active enlistment.
With the health of Savage's mother deteriorating, Savage and her family returned to Tucson. Nineteen months later, just days before her second child was born, Savage's mother lost her battle with lupus. Two years later, Savage and her family moved to Fort Worth and would welcome their third child in January 2001.
In December 2002, her fourth child, Austin, was born with multiple health problems that required two surgeries and several procedures during his first 18 months.
"During one of our numerous hospital stays, we were told that Austin could not be brought out into the hallways without socks or slippers on. The hospital provided us with a pair of socks that continually fell of Austin's tiny feet," said Savage.
She responded by providing spider-man slippers to patients who, like Austin, were hospitalized for extended periods of time.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Savage was approached by her pastor and asked if she had thought of also providing shoes.
"He explained that one of the needs of displaced children that had been reported to him was shoes," said Savage. "How else can you respond to a need, but to do all you can to meet it? We had given slippers to kids in the hospital, so why not shoes? That day we went to a local Wal-Mart and purchased 23 pairs of shoes."
The shoes bought that day would be the first of thousands. In October 2005, Savage founded Soles for Kidz, a nonprofit organization that collects new shoes and socks to be given to at-risk children across the world. Since then, the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization has provided over 40,000 pairs of new shoes and socks to disadvantaged children locally and abroad.
In order to cover the cost of Austin's daily medication and attempt to get medical bills paid, a year after Savage's fifth child was born she began working as a copy aide at Gililland Elementary in Saginaw. Lacei Koffi, then the assistant principal, saw something in Savage. Koffi told Savage that she was more than a copy aide, she was an educator.
"You could see it right away. Kelly had a desire to positively impact the lives of children," said Koffi. "Her passion was unmistakable. Kelly was already a teacher; she just needed the certificate to make it official."
In the meantime, Savage welcomed her sixth child. She was encouraged to give college another try in 2010, when her husband began his studies at UNT after reinjuring his ankle. Due to her husband's disability from his ankle injury, she became her husband's caregiver as well. Soon after, Savage graduated with honors from Tarrant County College in May 2012.
Savage continued to be inspired by her husband and encouraged by Koffi, and transferred to UNT in Spring 2012. They both attended college at UNT as full-time students for three semesters. Robert Savage graduated in Fall 2012 with a bachelor's degree in aviation logistics.
"It was definitely a challenge," said Savage describing her daily routine of working, studying and taking care of the kids.
Savage found new inspiration from faculty members at UNT, whom she says helped and supported her along the way.
"When my son was sick and on homebound education for seven weeks, my instructors were so accommodating," said Savage. "They worked around my schedule to make sure that I was able to complete my assignments while taking care of Austin."
Even while managing a household of eight, Savage has persistently made UNT's Dean's List and President's List. Adjunct Professor Michele Langley says Savage's work ethic is impeccable, which is why she was the winner of this year's UNT College of Education Bettye O. Mason Outstanding Student Teacher in Elementary Education award.
"Kelly consistently goes above and beyond in her assignments and teaching duties, and her mentors say she is one of the best they have ever had," said Langley. "The amount of hands-on activities she has created and implemented in her classrooms makes you wonder, when does she sleep?"
Savage won't rest for long after graduating May 9. She hopes to earn master's and doctoral degrees to become a faculty member at a college or university.
About UNT's College of Education
UNT's College of Education prepares students to contribute to the advancement of education, health and human development. Founded in 1890 as a teacher's training college, UNT now enrolls more than 4,000 students in the College of Education, which consists of four departments -- counseling and higher education; educational psychology; kinesiology, health promotion and recreation; and teacher education and administration. UNT's College of Education certifies about 1,000 teachers a year -- making it the largest producer of new teachers in the north Texas region. Students are also prepared for careers as researchers, counselors, leaders, physical activity and health promotion specialists, child development and family studies specialists and more.